Category Archives: Independent Living

Museum of Failure

“The Museum of Failure is a one of a kind international collection of more than 100 innovation failures. For every successful product corporations put on the market, there are many failures behind it.”

The other night, while watching the nightly news, I saw a report on the opening of the Museum of Failure in Sweden. It’s about time. There are many displays in the Museum include the Ford Edsel, Google Glasses and Colgate Kitchen Entrees to mention a few, but without a doubt, my favorite is Harley Davidson Perfume. While the Museum is devoted to failed innovations made by famous corporations, there are however still many lessons to be learned here about failure in general.

Harley Davidson Perfume

Harley Davidson Perfume

Marlboro Ice Cream

Marlboro Ice Cream

When speaking to groups the concept of failure is something that I try to encourage all people to understand better. It is important to remember that an individual’s attitudes and reactions to failure are learned. That is easily proven by looking at a young child learning to walk. Toddlers have no concept of failure. Imagine if they did and decided after standing and falling many times, it wasn’t worth the effort to keep trying. Obviously, they would never learn to walk. One Sunday night while watching an interview on 60 Minutes with Lebron James the interviewer asked him if he could give one piece of advice to young children watching what would it be. Without hesitation, he responded “Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Speaking to a group

Speaking to a group

When I was young I often looked at failure as an end in itself. It greatly affected my interactions in just about every aspect of my life. Venturing into a situation where the possibility of failure was great was carefully weighed. Even when I began teaching I was hesitant to try new and different ways to reach and involve my students. Fortunately, after being frustrated by what I perceived as an inability to engage all my students, I began trying new and different methods and strategies. Some were successful, and some weren’t, but learning was taking place in both cases.

For any individual, especially those with a disability, I believe it is critical to look at failure not as an end, but rather an opportunity to learn, grow and move on.
Many individuals who are disabled have some type of compromise of motor skills. It’s not the loss of the coordination that is the problem, it is the loss of the skills associated with it. However, those skills can be replaced! A society usually has a few accepted ways of accomplishing an activity (i.e. Catching a fish). However, looking at all societies there are a tremendous number of other ways developed to accomplish the same or similar activity. If attempts to develop a new skill fails and that is accepted as a final result anybody would have a hard time moving on. On the other hand, if failure is looked at as a temporary outcome to be learned from and grow, the chances of developing the new skills necessary in an individual’s life become possible. So, don’t let failure prevent you continuing from persisting to progress. Start looking at failure as an opportunity.

Oh, and the Museum of Failure is such a great success it’s going on tour.

An Asset For Improving Your Life

The Amazon Echo is one of those products made for able-bodied people, that has the potential to improve the lives of thousands in the disabled community. The Echo is available in 3 three different models and I assume more features are found in the larger sizes. The Echo Dot is the smallest and least expensive at $50 yet it provides everything most would want. Once plugged in, connected to your Wi-Fi and programmed the Dot becomes a tremendous asset. In order to set it up you must download the Amazon Alexa App, which is free, to your iPhone or iPad. Then, verbally you can speak to Alexa the Echo’s voice and she will perform many simple daily tasks. She can give you the local weather, a news update, play any kind of music you may be interested in, but her abilities far exceed those simple chores. She is able to read any book found on Kindle or Audible. You can have her wake you up every morning to either an alarm or music. Alexa can play soft music while you fall asleep and then shut herself off at a predetermined time. She can also be used as a timer by telling her the time duration you want her to set up. You can make shopping and to-do lists and then transfer them to your iPhone. You can even order directly from Amazon. While, I have not used it, it is my understanding that the Echo also enables you to call and speak with other individuals who also have an Echo.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

However, for one with a disability, the Echo’s most useful features is the ability to turn your home into a Smart Home. A variety of Smart equipment is available, at very reasonable costs, which will allow you to take control of most of your appliances and devices verbally. I now have the ability, through Alexa, to turn off and on my CPAP machine as well as the lights in the bedroom. There are Smart Plug-in Outlets, Smart Wall Switches, Smart Door Locks, Smart Thermostats and even accessories that will let you control your television with Alexa. For those of us with range of motion issues, poor dexterity or limited mobility the Echo Dot provides an inexpensive yet simple, convenient way for many to take greater control of their home environment with only your voice.

Amazon is constantly increasing the ability of the Echo to perform tasks. These improvements, unlike those with computers, do not have to be downloaded into the unit itself. Instead the new program is uploaded to the Cloud and is instantly available to your Echo.

Welcome To Our World

Earlier this week

Earlier this week

In the blog Andyticipation I wrote Andy comes to northern New York because it is much “easier” for him to travel than it is for me. The word “EASIER” was in quotation marks because it is a relative term. At 6′ 4″ 260 pounds, it is usually a disaster when I travel, but it is far from “easy” for most individuals with disabilities to travel any distance.

Andy left here August 24th around noon to return to Utah. He flew from Watertown to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Phoenix and then finally to Salt Lake City. When he got to Phoenix there was a weather delay, so his flight was canceled until Thursday. I’m sure if you stop and think a minute it’s fairly easy to realize the tremendous inconvenience this would be for a man with quadriplegia. The airline decided to put him up in a hotel in Phoenix. Andy got into a taxi and headed for the hotel. He told me the taxi driver was going like a bat out of hell. When arriving at the hotel the taxi driver slammed on the brakes and Andy was thrown out of his chair breaking his leg. He was pretty sure his leg was broken, but it wasn’t until Thursday afternoon he was able to get to a hospital in Salt Lake City where they put on a soft cast. The cast will stay on from 4 to 6 weeks. Imagine what it will be like to be in a manual wheelchair with one leg straight out in front of you for that length of time. How do you get close to anything? Andy, however, is approaching it with his usual determination to make the best out of a bad situation.

Welcome to our world.

New Year—New Opportunity – The Fork In The Road

Since its creation in 2008 Handihelp’s objective has been to share information, with individuals who have disabilities which will help them improve their daily lives, reduce frustrations and help them return to the activities that gave them quality of life.

Nothing is as important as the mind set the individual approaches their new life with. A catastrophic event generally limits normal body function in some way, but what it also does, which I think is much more serious, is take away skills that the individual has been using all his or her life. The person, after the onset of a disability, will eventually come to a fork in the road when they wish to perform a task and are unable to use the skill they used before. Which road will they choose? One road could, over time, led to as sense of helplessness while the other to feeling of empowerment. The factor, controlling the decision choosing which road, is the individual’s attitude.

A Fork In The Road

A Fork In The Road

Parisians reeling from the terrorist attacks in November 2015 came to a similar crossroad. Were they going to allow the terrorist attacks to change their lives and lifestyles, because of fear and anxiety, or were they going to return to being the City of Light? The decision was decided by their refusal to be intimidated into changing the lifestyle Paris is known for. The decision was decided by their attitude.

Handihelp strongly believes that a person, who is disabled, can reclaim much of what has been taken from them if they approach their new life with the proper attitude. Just as the Parisians decided the terrorist attacks would not destroy what they loved, an individual with a disability, as Christopher Reeves stated should refuse to allow a disability to determine how he or she will live their life. Being motivated by the proper attitude can lead to the development of new skills to replace many of those that have been taken.

Critical to the development of new skills is the understanding that there are many ways to solve a particular problem. Historically, cultures tend to develop a few accepted methods to solve a challenge. These ways are often referred to as norms from the root word normal. After a while people come to believe that those methods are the only ones that can be used. Nothing could be further from the truth! When talking to a group I often use the example of catching a fish, but in reality the same concept could be applied to many of the tasks performed daily. If ten people were selected from a homogenous audience in the U.S. and ask to catch a fish, chances are most would grab a fishing pole and head to nearby body of water. Suppose the same challenge was presented to a heterogeneous group of dependents from the United Nations. There is a strong probability we would see a variety of methods which could include, but not be limited to, the use of nets (both casting and stationary), weirs, noodling, spears, spear guns, bow and arrow and even the use of other animals, such as cormorants which are widely used to catch fish in Far East.

So, when initially dealing with a challenge placed on an individual with a disability, many most often try to solve the problem using the same skill they used before their impairment. When the old approach does not work and it is repeated for other problems it can create extreme frustration and an acute awareness of the limitations created by their disability. This experience repeated a number of times can lead an individual down the wrong road. Accepting failure as an end result, over time, can easily lead to the belief of inability. Imagine a baby; if they had a concept of failure, deciding after months of falling down it wasn’t worth continuing trying to get up. The result is obvious.

Conversely, you only need to browse through the pages of Handihelp to see a number of different ways people have come up with to solve a common problem. To understand the likelihood of a solution is critical to developing the new attitude. Developing a new skill most likely will not come easy. It will take time, effort, thought, failure, persistence, trial and error… you get the idea. However, imagine the results when you find a new way to solve a challenge.
As Robert Frost wrote in his poem “The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

What Do You See?

The Dress
More than likely you are aware of the great dress debate which captured the public’s attention for a couple days last month. Some people saw the dress as gold and white (left) and others saw it as black and blue (right). The fashion police finally identified the dress as black and blue. What people saw, if I have it correct, was determined by light and certain sensory receptors in the perceiver’s brain.

It always amazes me how two people can look at the same object and see two different things. This happens quite a bit between my son Mark and me. As a result of his engineering training he usually has a different perspective than me. Fortunately, my disability has changed what I see. I’ll give you a challenge. Look at the picture below and tell yourself what you see.
Broom & Dustpan
Now this is a perfect example of how what I see has changed since my accident. Pre-injury I would have seen only a slightly different type of broom and dustpan. However, when I saw it a month or so ago I saw, a multi-purpose tool which had nothing to do with sweeping the floor. I did notice it was pretty inexpensive so, I ordered it!
When it arrived I was pleasantly surprise how well made it was. After some minor adaptions I had myself an extremely useful multipurpose tool which enables me to do something I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do for 16 years.

Just below you can see the adaptions I made and one of my new uses of the dustpan. It works better that anything I have made for picking up larger objects. Adapted DustpanHowever, the job I bought it for was as a tool which would allow me to feed the dogs when my wife is gone. A challenge I have been trying to solve since my injury. My nurse fills the dog dishes, before she leaves, and places them on the microwave. I am able to get them down on the kitchen counter and slide them onto the dustpan and then lower the dish to the ground. I feel smug every time I do it.

Looking at an object and seeing more than the obvious is a real asset. Oh, I can also use it to sweep the floor.


Andy on a bike rideMy friend Andy Dahmen from Utah, who was just here a week ago, changed his profile picture on Facebook. His explanation is something everyone should read whether able-bodied or not. He said I can share it.

Thought I would update my profile picture. The one that I had on there was from when I joined Facebook. I used that picture because you could not see my wheelchair. I did not want to be defined by my disability. To be honest with you I don’t really see myself as that disabled and definitely not handicapped. Not to be too critical, but handicapped should be used for people that don’t take advantage of what they got. There are far more able bodied handicapped people, but let’s not let that definition get out because it would be harder to find good parking! So I am embracing my mod of mobility. This picture, taken by my buddy Joshua Hansen, kind of shows my metaphoric outlook on life; a nice smooth path curving ahead into a bright colorful future. And it looks warm, warm is important to me. I am looking back a little, we should not to look back too much but push forward!

I’m proud to call him my friend.
At Lake Ontario

Fort Drum Workshop

Last month an intensive 3-day training course was presented by the National Center on Accessibility at Indiana University, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Fish & Wildlife Management Program from Fort Drum, New York. Fort Drum is the home of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.

The workshop was entitled Accessibility for Outdoor Recreation Programs & Facilities on Military Installations. The course was geared to staff on military installations responsible for outdoor recreation, including trails, fishing, hunting, camping and picnic areas, and beaches. Its intent was to provide a background and working knowledge of issues to address to increase accessibility to all persons.

Imagine my surprise when I was asked to present on my hunting and fishing adaptions and experiences. I put on a Power Point presentation on My Evolution as a Wheelchair Hunter and Fisherman. On the final day, at the Skeet Range I demonstrated the hunting set up on the Extreme wheelchair including my trigger adapter which allows the weapon to be fired with the mouth. Firing 3 times at different targets allowed the audience to see the amazing maneuverability of adaptive gun mount. There was also the opportunity to demonstrate some of the adaptations which allow me to cast and fish.

The workshop was well received and a lot of pertinent information was shared. Participants came from far away as Fort Wainwright, Alaska.